Richard Moore, the new Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, said the employment restriction was “wrong, unjust and discriminatory”.
The spy boss, known as “C”, stressed that the policy had meant “loyal and patriotic people had their dreams of serving their country in MI6 shattered” because of a “misguided” view that LGBT individuals would be more susceptible to blackmail.
In a video issued on Twitter, a ground-breaking move in itself for the normally secretive organisation, he said: “Today, I apologise on behalf of MI6 for the way our LGBT+ colleagues and fellow citizens were treated and express my regret to those whose lives were affected.
“Being LGBT+ did not make these people a national security threat. Of course not. But the ban did mean that we, in the intelligence and diplomatic services, deprived ourselves of some of the best talent Britain could offer. Ready to serve but denied that opportunity.”
In his first major public statement since becoming MI6 boss last October, he emphasized that even after the ban was lifted in 1991, its “effects lingered” on in the way some people were treated.
“Some staff who chose to come out were treated badly for not having previously disclosed their sexuality during their security vetting,” he explained.
“Others who joined in the period post-1991 were made to feel unwelcome. That treatment fuelled a reluctance to be their true selves in the workplace. This was also unacceptable.”
Same-sex relationships were decriminalised in 1967 in the UK.
However, the intelligence agencies kept the employment ban in place until 1991 because of the belief that they would be more at risk of blackmail.
Mr Moore added: “It meant that until 1991, being openly LGBT+ in MI6 would cause you to lose your job or prevent you from being allowed to join in the first place.
“Committed, talented, public-spirited people had their careers and lives blighted because it was argued that being LGBT+ was incompatible with being an intelligence professional.
“Because of this policy, other loyal and patriotic people had their dreams of serving their country in MI6 shattered.
“This was wrong, unjust and discriminatory.”
The recruitment restriction had been kept in force following a series of Cold War spy scandals involving gay men.
At least two of the Cambridge Five spy ring, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, were gay, while a third, Donald Maclean, is believed to have been bisexual. Being gay was seen in Whitehall at the time as leaving people vulnerable to blackmail.
Stressing how attitudes had changed, Mr Moore said: “I pay tribute to the extraordinary resilience and loyalty to Service and country of LGBT+ colleagues past and present who slowly turned the tide by educating their workmates and fighting for change.”
MI6 still had work to do to become a “fully inclusive employer”, he added, where people could “always bring your true self to work”.
The intelligence agency has stepped up its efforts to recruit people from all backgrounds, races, ages and sexualities.
“Diversity makes us more effective; inclusion makes us stronger,” added Mr Moore.
— to www.standard.co.uk